The United States pork niche market phenomenon

J Anim Sci. 2006 Aug;84(8):2269-75. doi: 10.2527/jas.2005-680.


After the broad industrialization of the US pork industry, there has been a development of niche markets for export and domestic pork; that is, there is a pork niche market phenomenon. The US pork niche market phenomenon is characterized, and 2 of the major markets are explained in detail. With the Midwest's tradition of a diversified family-based agriculture and record low hog prices of the late 1990s, the conditions were conducive for this phenomenon to develop. Pork niche markets utilize various sales methods including Internet sales, local abattoir sales, direct marketing, farmer networks, and targeting to organized groups. In 2003, there were approximately 35 to 40 active pork niche marketing efforts in Iowa. The Berkshire breed is an example of a swine breed that has had a recent resurgence because of niche markets. Berkshire pork is known for tenderness and excellent quality. Berkshire registrations have increased 4-fold in the last 10 yr. One of the larger niche marketers of "natural pork" is Niman Ranch Pork, which has more than 400 farmer-producers and processes about 2,500 pigs weekly. Many US consumers of pork are interested in issues concerning the environment, food safety, pig welfare, and pig farm ownership and structure. These consumers may be willing to pay more for pork from farmers who are also concerned about these issues. Small- and medium-sized swine farmers are active in pork niche markets. Niche markets claim product differentiation by superior or unique product quality and social attributes. Quality attributes include certain swine breeds, and meat quality, freshness, taste or flavor, and tenderness. Social or credence attributes often are claimed and include freedom from antibiotics and growth promotants; local family farm production; natural, organic, outdoor, or bedded rearing; humane rearing; known origin; environmentally friendly production; and the absence of animal by-products in the feed. Niche pork markets and alternative swine production practices offer an unusual contrast to commodity pork markets and industrial confinement swine production. Because they strive to have these attributes in their product, the niche pork market producers are a distinct clientele group. If niche pork markets continue to flourish, the markets and the producers that supply them will be a viable sector in a diverse US pork industry.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Food Industry / economics*
  • Marketing / economics*
  • Meat / economics*
  • Meat / standards
  • Meat / supply & distribution*
  • Swine
  • United States